Posted May 22, 2013

Brian Urlacher a legend, but retirement comes at right time

Chicago Bears
Brian Urlacher had 1,779 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 22 interceptions in 13 seasons. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Brian Urlacher had 1,779 tackles, 41.5 sacks and 22 interceptions in 13 seasons. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Brian Urlacher could have coaxed another year or two out of a body that was breaking down rapidly. He could have signed with a team hunting for middle linebacker help, like Minnesota or Denver.

Instead, the 2000 Defensive Rookie of the Year, 2005 Defensive Player of the Year and eight-time Pro Bowler opted, wisely, to call it a career on Wednesday.

“After spending a lot of time this spring thinking about my NFL future, I have made the decision to retire,” Urlacher said in a statement. “Although I could continue playing, I’m not sure I would bring a level of performance or passion that’s up to my standards. When considering this, along with the fact that I could retire after a 13-year career wearing only one jersey for such a storied franchise, my decision became pretty clear.

“I want to thank all the people in my life that have helped me along the way. I will miss my teammates, my coaches, and the great Bears fans. I’m proud to say that I gave all of you everything I had every time I took the field. I will miss the great game, but I leave with no regrets.”

While retiring as a one-team player further cements Urlacher’s exceptional legacy with the Chicago Bears, he got to the real heart of the matter when he mentioned a decreased “level of performance.” Urlacher, who turns 35 later this week, missed all but one game in the 2009 season with a wrist injury and, though he made the Pro Bowl in both 2010 and ’11, clearly neared the end of the line during 2012.

Urlacher missed another four games due to injury last season, and he was a shell of his former self on the field. He finished the year averaging fewer than six tackles per game, which would have put him at about 91 for a full 16-game season — a total lower than any other complete year for Urlacher.

Rather than bring the former No. 9 overall pick back for a 14th season, the Bears opted to sign D.J. Williams and draft Jon Bostic, both moves indications that the team had reached the difficult conclusion that Urlacher was finished. Urlacher graded out on Pro Football Focus as Chicago’s worst defender by a large margin last season, his sagging run defense at the heart of that rating.

It’s not an easy decision for a player to walk away from the game he loves, and we’ve seen more than a few try too hard to hang on for longer than they should. Urlacher decided to hang ‘em up before he reached that breaking point.

And so now we turn our attention to the discussion of Urlacher’s legacy. Both within the Bears’ franchise and in the annals of NFL history, it’s hard to dispute the impact Urlacher had.

He will forever be mentioned alongside Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary as part of the Bears’ linebacker lore. Both Butkus and Singletary are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Urlacher no doubt will follow them to Canton in the near future. Urlacher, in fact, surpassed Singletary in games played last season — Urlacher played 182 games (and started 180) for Chicago, compared to 179 for Singletary and 119 for Butkus.

Urlacher’s retirement also comes just months after Ray Lewis stepped away from the game following Baltimore’s Super Bowl win, meaning the league has lost two of its all-time great defenders this offseason.

Urlacher, though, played a different game than Butkus, Singletary or even Lewis. Whereas the former Bears’ MLBs destroyed offenses with intimidation, Urlacher captained Chicago’s cover-2 defense, using his instincts and athleticism to eliminate the middle of the field.

That’s not to say that he tackled gently, but Urlacher helped carry his position into the modern era. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers told the Chicago Tribune that he “revolutionized” the middle linebacker spot.

“He was so good at running that Tampa-2 scheme,” Rodgers said. “They had him play both the deep middle and then react to the short middle. He changed that position with his height and long levers and athleticism.”

Urlacher’s days of domination had passed, however, and he looked overmatched against sped-up NFL offenses last season — almost to the point of it being tough to watch at times.

The Bears realized his time had come and gone. Even if part of him desired to continue his career, Urlacher knew it too.

GALLERY: Biggest retirements of 2013

 

15 comments
mattforys
mattforys

The bears screwed him ... retirement was his best choice after being stabbed in the back .  I dont blame him for looking around, but he FITS with the bears and even with diminished performance he is STILL better than 95% of the middle linebackers in the league, if not more.... not to mention he is easily MUCH better than any middle LB the bears have now for this up-coming season.  Take that along with the huge amount of rest he has gotten and rigorous off-season training he has been doing to stay in shape.  Everyone gets injured.. this is the NFL!  For Chicago not to even give the guy just 2 more years (@ only 6million, which he would have taken which is is way under his worth) was a huge, undeserved, slap in the face and just shows how messed-up the ownership really still is in Chicago.  Brain, I wish you well and thanks for all the great years .. you deserved an SB ring and Im sorry Rex blew that for you... I hope you enjoy retirement!

RaySexauer
RaySexauer

wow.....rare to see a player do that anymore...Congratulations and good luck with the rest of your life...

stujoe1966
stujoe1966

I think the decision was made for him when he dissed the franchise and the fans and then found out no one else wanted him.

Fannish
Fannish

Butkus, Singletary, Connor, Buffone, George, Turner............ now add Urlacher.

You have been one of the "intimidators". Thanks Brian!

amolad
amolad

Best he retires as a Bear. Did he really want to spend half of the upcoming season in a strange place in a tub filled with ice?

M38
M38

Story doesn't mention how Urlacher played at the University of New Mexico as a safety (I believe) and barely got recruited out of high school. 

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

Spending an entrie career with one team has its drawbacks.  Cast-off Urlacher had nowhere to go for one of those 1-yr., 'for-old-times-sake' deals like Charlie Woodson just got in Oakland.  On the upside, Brian won't be signing (he wouldn't anyway) one of those ephemeral 1-day contracts with his former team.  

DuYuMuTu
DuYuMuTu

Forgot to mention Bill George as a great Bear linebacker prior to Butkis.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@mattforys If he was better than 95% of the MLBs in the league he would still have a job.

luvfoozball
luvfoozball

@mattforys OReally? The Bears offered him $1.8M for 1 year... more than any other team in the league offered him.

Urlacher is similar to Olin Kreutz. Kreutz got angry at how insulting it was to accept $4M for one year. Then he ended up accepting $2M for one year from the Aints and then quit in the middle of the season.

JeremyJanishewski
JeremyJanishewski

@mattforys The Bears did nothing wrong. How long was he going to play anyway and how good would he be? He was statistically the worst defender on the team by far. You don't get money and minutes for what you used to do and he was well paid for what he used to do. I'm so tired of all these weak people that act like athletes owe, or are owed something. Business is business. You are paid to be there while you serve your purpose and are let go when your usefulness is done. You want loyalty? Get a dog.

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

@amolad Maybe that was rhetorical but, yes, he did.  For $500,000 and one more year of being treated like a king, yes, he did.  But I agree, good he "retires as a Bear."

DanaBunner
DanaBunner

@KeysSteven If Urlacher had gotten an offer from the Vikings that approached what Woodson got from Oakland, he'd be practicing in purple right now.   He spent months trying to find a team which would pay him. I'm glad he's retiring rather to beat himself up even more.  I hope he goes on to have a healthy life, but I doubt he will.  He took quite a beating in his NFL career.

PWINGS
PWINGS

@DuYuMuTu Bill George is also in the NFL Hall of Fame yet he always gets overlooked in these discussions of great Bear LB's. Shame!

MikeF85
MikeF85

@JeremyJanishewski @mattforys Totally agree Jeremy. Not to mention that he kinda blew any goodwill he had built the last time he cried for money in the middle of a contract. All these idiots will shut up if the BEars get a ring, and that's all that matters. Brian was great, WAS great. It's time to move on.